The Power of Debate



Maria Mutka, YGI Staff Writer

Debate – the mere mention of the word can cause blood to boil. It can evoke the picture of fruitless, petty arguing. Needles to say, it is not a pleasant image. However, the type of image of debate I would like to project is one of a formal debate.

A formal debate involves two sides or teams – the proposition and opposition. The house, or the judges of the debate, will pose a resolution – a controversial, clearly debatable statement to both teams. The proposition has to argue in favor of the resolution while the opposition has to argue against it. Each of the three people on the respective teams has the opportunity to present a part of their team’s overall argument within a short, timed speech. This speech is prepared in detail, supported by in-depth research and facts. Within this speech, a debater has to try and present the argument of the team in a clear, concise, and logical manner. In addition, making it even more difficult, members of the other teams can raise objections to the speaker’s points during the speech to which the speaker has the option to respond.

To conclude the debate, the house will vote on which team presented the better argument. In all, it’s a fascinating process that requires no small level of skill.

However, I can also understand those that don’t admire debate as I do. There is a common
idea that debate is an activity for those who tend to be on the extreme end of the spectrum when it comes to arguing, or just talking in general. Along with this, debate can appear to be somewhat like sophistry – that it’s not about whose opinion is actually better or more correct within objective standards, but who can argue it more persuasively. To many, debate sounds like a futile activity that causes more problems than it’s worth. It might seem like it increases our ability to argue, but not to understand or really care about the problems of our world.

As you might imagine, I disagree with this idea. I would like to argue for the particular value that participating in formal debates could bring to your own and to others’ understanding of the world.

First and foremost, the research aspect alone of formal debate allows for participants to truly engage in and learn about key global issues. By being accountable for the amount of research one does and what sources they consult, debate participants necessarily must learn all they can about topics. A formal debate provides the right setting for having to fully understand problems in the world. Other settings do not do this nearly as well. Nor do they force people to learn about what really matters within the context of the issues. In formal debate, it is vital that a debater get to the core of the issue quickly within their speech. They have to really select what is most significant in an issue for them to discuss and form their argument around.

A formal debate, in its format, requires participants to see potential arguments and
understand issues from many sides. In order for them to prepare their arguments well, debaters consider points from all different perspectives. They need to anticipate objections and weaknesses, and thus, they have to comprehend not only their own argument but also the argument of the opposing team. In this way, debate provides a platform for participants to realize the issues are multi-faceted- there are no quick and easy answers. Participants realize no answer is completely perfect as they see the flaws in both sides. In my opinion, this puts those who participate in debate in a better position to solve problems. If they are going about the debate with the right mindset and end goal, they are forced to realize that solutions require compromises, gives and takes.

I recently saw the power of formal debate at my school. Six students across grade levels, with three on each respective team, debated on whether or not European countries should keep their borders open to Syrian refugees. It was a school-wide event (my school is a very small private school). Although the fact that my whole school was there might sound disastrous, it was quite the opposite. Immediately after the debate, everyone was discussing it, and I heard snippets of conversations about the debate continuing into the lunch period. It was evident that the debate had inspired my peers to continue the discussion, and continue thinking critically on the topic.

I would encourage you to consider trying debate. Though you might think debating isn’t for you, but all it takes is some old-fashioned intellectual curiosity and a will to practice and try. While the most daunting thing might be the public speaking aspect, if you are passionate enough about global issues, your skill in public speaking will develop with time.

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